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How Myers-Briggs helped my anxiety

Suzanne Zuppello

Most Talkative. Boy Crazy. Social Butterfly. These accolades permanently lived below my name in the yearbook. Naturally, I assumed the role of extrovert among my peers. I was outspoken in class and friends with everyone. But something always felt off.

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Crowded parties made me anxious and, as I grew older, I found myself preferring books and movies over a night out at the bar. I didn’t understand why, as a person who always shared her opinion and enjoyed seeing other people happy, I could feel so uncomfortable being with those people. Still touting my extrovert badge years later despite becoming increasingly anxious about it, a friend told me how she likes to know someone’s Myers-Briggs type (MBTI) because it helped her understand how best to relate to them. She then guessed that my type is an INFJ. Clearly living under a rock, I didn’t understand what she meant. So, I took an online quiz to learn my MBTI and she was right about all except one letter—displayed in bold letters was INFP—or rather, Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving. Suddenly, everything I identified with was wrong.

But it also made sense. Reading the description of an INFP—someone who is quietly caring, compassionate, inquisitive, and creative, who pursues meaning and harmony, is independent and adaptable—I came to understand myself better. But I wanted to better understand my new qualifier. No longer feeling boxed into “extrovert” and “life of the party”, I was now, and perhaps always was, an INFP—and it felt good. I looked at each descriptor of the personality type and surveyed my memories, my habits, and my relationships to see how it played out. Reading the words “quietly caring” turned on a light inside me. Despite feeling out of place in bars or crowded parties, I was always the perfect wing-woman, making sure my friends were enjoying themselves and stepping in whenever someone had a little too much to drink or needed a way out of an unwelcome conversation. It also made sense why I felt lonely and responsible if I saw someone dining alone or catching a Friday night movie solo. But I also understood that I felt compassion for their choice. These words—quietly caring—made me feel less like an outcast for not enjoying myself in the social situations my friends so loved. It was like someone told me it’s OK, if not crucial to my survival, to enjoy my solitude.

Being a newly minted INFP also helped me navigate my work as a Human Resources Manager where my entire role centers around helping people. It made sense I gravitated toward this role as an “empathic helper” but consistently felt helpless for not being able to fix all that was wrong. In other words, I wasn’t able to achieve the harmony an INFP so deeply craves. For most of my life, I had felt at odds with myself, like a pushover, a loner, an innocent, and not fitting into the box others had drawn for me only served to increase my anxiety and aggravate feelings of depression. But as I devoured information on INFPs, I realized that my nights in a bubble bath instead of a bar weren’t at odds with who I was—they were self-care. I felt less like a stranger in my skin. I felt like myself. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but knowing my MBTI—knowing myself—gave me the tools to better understand my feelings and forgive myself for not fitting my original view of “normal”.

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For most of my life, I had felt at odds with myself.

Suzanne Zuppello

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